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Natural vs. artificial: Which Christmas tree option is better for the climate?

Natural vs. artificial: Which Christmas tree option is better for the climate?

(CNN)It's the time of the year when most Americans finish Thanksgiving leftovers and venture out in search for the best holiday sales. More importantly, they plan their household centerpiece of the season: the Christmas tree.

While some revel in the scent of a real tree and the joy of picking one out at a local farm, others prefer the simplicity of artificial trees they can reuse for Christmases to come.

But consumers are becoming more climate-conscious, and considering which tree has the lowest impact on our rapidly warming planet has become a vital part of the holiday decision. Plus, choosing a planet-friendly tree will likely get you on Santa's good list.

So, which kind of tree has the lowest carbon footprint — a natural tree or a store-bought plastic tree? It's complicated, experts say.
"It's definitely a lot more nuanced and complex than you think," Andy Finton, the landscape conservation director and forest ecologist for the Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts, told CNN.
We've made a list — and checked it twice — of the things to know before you choose between real and artificial.

The case for artificial trees

It's easy to imagine that reusing an artificial tree year after year is the more sustainable option. But Finton says that if an artificial tree is used for six years -- the average amount of time people tend to keep them -- "the carbon cost is definitely greater" than for a natural tree.

"If the artificial trees are used for a longer lifespan, that balance changes," Finton told CNN. "And I've read that it would take 20 years for the carbon balance to be about equivalent."

That's because artificial trees are typically made of polyvinyl chloride plastic, or PVC. Plastic is petroleum-based and created at pollution-belching petrochemical facilities. Studies have also linked PVC plastic to cancer and other public health and environmental risks.


Choosing a planet-friendly tree will likely get you on Santa's good list.
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